AGYU curator Philip Monk honoured for lifetime achievement

Philip Monk has won the 2009 Ontario Association of Art Galleries (OAAG) Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Monk, curator and director of the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU), is the first recipient of this new award, created to recognize long-term contributions of high-performing members in Ontario’s visual arts community. 

His award highlights a particularly fruitful year for the AGYU. This year the gallery at Keele campus received a record seven awards out of 33 at the 2009 OAAG Awards ceremony Sept. 25 – the most since Monk came on board in 2003. 

Right: Philip Monk and Emelie Chhangur at Toronto’s Images Festival this spring. Photo by Women’s Post.

Monk studied art history at the University of Toronto, then covered the emerging Toronto art scene as an independent critic for seven years. Before coming to York, he was curator of contemporary Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario for eight years, then curator at Toronto’s prestigious Power Plant gallery for 10. An adjunct professor in York’s Graduate Program in Art History, Monk has curated more than 60 exhibitions and published six books, some 30 catalogues and 120 articles, catalogue and book essays, and reviews.

Emelie Chhangur, AGYU’s assistant director and curator, nominated Monk. Matthew Teitelbaum, director and CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and Louise Dompierre, president and CEO of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, supported the nomination.

In its award citation, the jury selecting Monk stated: "For over 30 years, Philip Monk has played a central role in the development and advancement of contemporary visual art in Toronto and beyond as both writer and curator. His body of work has had a considerable impact on the knowledge base of Canada’s art community. As a curator, writer and director, he is forward thinking and progressive and has consistently embraced innovative approaches to exhibitions and discourse in contemporary art."

Chhangur has worked with Monk for eight years – two at the Power Plant and six at the AGYU. “Philip is Canada’s premier curator, in my opinion, because of his strong, strong commitment to contemporary art locally,” she says. “Each time he’s moved to a different gallery, he’s redefined its commitment to its local context.” This is important because “art galleries don’t exist in a void,” she says.


Above: The real AGYU lobby, left, and its copy in Carla Zaccagnini’s palindromic exhibit no. it is opposition., which won an OAAG Exhibition Design & Installation Award. Photo by Cheryl O’Brien.

At the AGYU, Monk has expanded the gallery’s outreach to the surrounding community and its links to Toronto’s downtown art scene. Before he came to York, the gallery, known internationally through its publications, was heard but not seen, says Chhangur. Now, through initiatives such as her Studio Blog – which received special recognition by OAAG this year – and the Performance Bus, the AGYU has embraced and engaged another generation of young artists, she says. “In the last six years, Philip has taken the AGYU’s public status seriously as well as its university status.”

Supporting Monk’s nomination, Teitelbaum wrote: “Philip has produced a focused body of writings and literature that today serve as quintessential references for Canadian contemporary art. As curator of contemporary Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario 1985-1993, Philip organized groundbreaking, highly lauded exhibitions that showcased some of the best of Canadian contemporary art: Joyce Wieland, Paterson Ewen, Michael Snow, Liz Magor and Robin Collyer among them. The exhibitions were rigorous, thoughtful and appropriately collaborative. Philip is truly an inspired choice for this prestigious award and it is my honour to support him and his candidacy."

Dompierre wrote: "At the Power Plant and while still focusing on the work of Toronto artists, Philip expanded his scope by looking internationally at such artists as Nan Goldin, Richard Prince, Tracey Emin, Georgina Starr and many others. As a colleague and a mentor to the Power Plant’s many curatorial interns, Philip was always generous with his ideas and support.

Left: Design Award-winning AGYU newsletter

“Since taking over the direction of the Art Gallery of York University, Philip has infused a new sense of direction to this reputable institution. His ability to adapt himself and reposition York within his new and relatively competitive working environment draws younger artists in his new project, inspiring curatorial and educational programs [that] most certainly add to an already rich and impressive history of commitment to the arts in Ontario and Canada."

The AGYU won six other 2009 OAAG juried awards this year. Chhangur received special recognition under the Educator Award category for Studio Blog. She also won an Exhibition Design & Installation Award as curator of Carla Zaccagnini’s no. it is opposition.

The York gallery also won four design awards. Three went to Ken Ogawa for a poster, Project for a New American Century; a newsletter for Carla Zaccagnini’s no. it is opposition.; and a Web award for Comb Over to AGYU, the animation introducing the AGYU Web site. A fourth was awarded for Paul Wagner’s design of Monk’s book, Matthew Brannon: To Say the Very Least.

Monk is no stranger to awards. Since coming to York, he has won several OAAG Exhibition Design & Installation Awards, and Curatorial Writing Awards for two books – Double-Cross: The Hollywood Films of Douglas Gordon and for Spirit Hunter: The Haunting of American Culture by Myths of Violence: Speculations on Jeremy Blake’s Winchester Trilogy.

At the AGYU, Monk has curated many exhibitions, including What It Feels Like for a Girl, Sinbad in the Rented World, Jeremy Blake’s Winchester Trilogy and The Atlas Group and Walid Raad, which won the OAAG Exhibition of the Year Award in 2005.  He has also curated works by Mike Hoolboom, Istvan Kantor, Fiona Banner, Rosa Barba, Nathalie Melikian, Fiona Tan, Jeremy Deller, Matthew Brannon, Fastwürms and Saskia Olde Wolbers, as well as Project for a New American Century by Daniel Borins and Jennifer Marman. At the Power Plant, he curated exhibitions of the work of Liam Gillick, Guy Maddin, Ian Carr-Harris, Liz Magor, Douglas Gordon, Tim Hawkinson, Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy.

Right: Award-winning cover design by Paul Wagner

Monk’s books also include Struggles with the Image: Essays in Art Criticism (1988), Stan Douglas: Discordant Absences (2006) and Disassembling the Archive: Fiona Tan (2007).

The OAAG advocates for, serves and represents Ontario’s public art galleries as valued and essential centres of art and learning. This year, it presented 33 juried awards in 13 categories at its annual awards ceremony held Sept. 25 at Hart House, University of Toronto. Categories included exhibition of the year, curatorial writing, design, exhibition design & installation, education, community partnerships and volunteer of the year.